As the sun continues to fade on the Athletics in the West, the whispers grow louder.
The latest have Scott Kazmir or Ben Zobrist or both headed to Chicago before the July 31 trade deadline. There the former Tampa Bay Rays would be reunited with the Cubs’ Joe Maddon, their one-time manager.
After the A’s found another way to lose a one-run game at O.co Coliseum on Saturday — this time on a controversial balk against the Kansas City Royals — the likelihood of an overhaul became a bit greater.
Kazmir and Zobrist are two of five veterans on the roster who will become unrestricted free agents after the season. Tyler Clippard, Eric O’Flaherty and Edward Mujica are the others. The group represents nearly $40 million in salary this season.
“Yeah, you know that,” Zobrist said. “As players, we know when the trade deadline is. We know we have to get things headed in the right direction — and we have until the last two games. The more we win, the less you think about it.”
While the A’s have played more consistently of late, they’re still stuck in the West Division cellar. Seven teams stand between them and the final wild card playoff spot.
The latest loss was the continuation of two season-long trends — an inability to win one-run games and win at home.
“We’re playing great baseball the past couple of weeks,” said Kazmir, who allowed three runs on seven hits in seven innings. “To fall two straight games to a team like this is tough. But that’s a good team, and if you make mistakes, it capitalizes on them.”
“I think we have turned the corner,” Zobrist said. “We’re definitely playing more like the kind of team we are. Regardless of whether we won five in a row, you’re always going to hit a couple games that aren’t so great. You just try to turn it back around.”
Nonetheless, the front office would like to replenish the farm system, which took a hit with the acquisitions of Jason Hammel, Jon Lester and Jeff Samardzija last season. While it remains to be seen whether the Cubs would part with upper-level prospects, they have enough in their farm system to make reasonable offers.
Kazmir would allow the Cubs to move Travis Wood to a swing role, while Zobrist could be a valuable moveable piece in the stretch drive. Both had their best seasons under Maddon in Tampa Bay.
“Yeah, [the relationship] was great,” said Zobrist, who texted Maddon in the offseason. “I loved having Joe as a manager.”
At $13 million, Kazmir is the highest-paid player on the team. That fact alone makes the 31-year-old left-hander the first big domino on general manager Billy Beane’s board.
That Kazmir has seen his value trend upward in the last month also points to a change of location in the weeks ahead. In his last five starts before the weekend, he was only slightly less than sensational — 2-1 record, 1.93 earned run average and .210 opponents’ batting average.
As manager Bob Melvin said. “He always keeps us in the game toward the end. He keeps the runs down and gives us a chance to win.”
The next couple or three weeks figure to determine how much longer Kazmir and Zobrist will do it in A’s uniforms.Ben ZobristBilly BeaneChicago CubsEdward MujicaEric O’FlahertyJason HammelJeff SamardzijaJoe MaddonJon LesterMLBOakland A'sScott KazmirTyler Clippard